Chicago Blackhawks on the Brink as Maddening March Continues

Adam KoppCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2009

What a difference a few weeks in the NHL can make.

Three weeks into February, after completing one of the longest road stints in franchise history, the Hawks were 7-2 through the 21st and firmly entrenched in the fourth spot in the Western Conference.

Since then, the Blackhawks have gone 3-7-2 and find themselves in a virtual dead heat with the Vancouver Canucks.  To make matters worse, the Blue Jackets, one of the perennial forgotten teams in the NHL, have pulled to within four points of the once-untouchable Hawks.

But these aren't your father's (okay, your older brother's) Jackets.  Though the Blackhawks seemingly didn't have the goaltender to spare, the Blue Jackets were able to ship Pascal Leclaire to Ottawa for center Antoine Vermette, a trade that has already burned the Hawks twice now.

Vermette scored two goals in the Jackets matchup against the Hawks on an unlucky Friday the 13th and followed that up with a game-winning goal against the Hawks on Wednesday the 19th. 

So, there's no way the Blackhawks could've shipped Khabibulin to the Sens for this guy?

In a previous article, I wrote that Dale Tallon's tenure as Hawks GM would be judged on the trading deadline, and, true to form, he didn't fail to disappoint me. 

Don't get me wrong, when it comes to the minor trades, the eye for young talent, and especially the draft, Tallon is a wiz.  But when it comes to making the big moves, whether it be signing big names or making the big deals needed to help this team contend, Tallon has either been gun-shy or flat out wrong.

I'm not ready to call the Brian Campbell signing a failure just yet, but having not scored a goal since Jan. 8 and collecting an ugly -11 in his past seven games, one has to wonder if that $7 million-a-year contract couldn't have been spent a bit more wisely.

So, instead of trading for Olli Jokinen and not only filling that elusive second line center position as well as filling in for the loss of Patrick Sharp, the Blackhawks chose to trade gritty defenseman and fan favorite James Wisniewski for checking-line center and face-off specialist Samuel Pahlsson.

Meanwhile, the Calgary Flames, having lost scorers Rene Bourque and Todd Bertuzzi, went out and snagged Jokinen.  The result?  Jokinen has 10 points in his last six games and has helped Calgary cement their top line.

This time of year is always hard on young teams.  The grind of the regular season is undoubtedly felt that much more when the playoffs seem to be in sight.  However, the Hawks still have nearly a month left, and the 15 games coming up on the schedule won't be doing the Hawks any favors.

A revamped Oilers squad, an always tricky Kings team, as well as matchups against the Sharks, Devils, Canucks, and Canadiens will help the Hawks close out a month of March that might be best left forgotten by the Chi-Town faithful.

Oh, and the month of April?  The Blackhawks will be in their division for the remainder of the regular season in April, a place where the Hawks have been simply abysmal this season.  Two more matchups against the Blue Jackets as well as two more matches against the defending Cup champion Red Wings to close out the year.

I hate to be a doubting Thomas, but with a nine-point lead over the eighth-seeded Predators (whom they also play twice in April), is there actually a chance that the slumping Hawks could find themselves on the outside looking in when the second season starts?

That might seem like an inconceivable concept for most Hawks fans, but remember this:  Only a few weeks ago, the Blackhawks had a 10-point lead over the fifth seed and were essentially penciled into the fourth playoff spot by most experts.

Apparently, no matter the squad Tallon puts out on the ice from year to year, the second-half slide remains an unfortunate part of this team. 

It really is a shame, though, that Tallon couldn't work out a deal at the deadline to really help this team going forward.  As much as Pahlsson's face-off abilities will help, I believe that Wisniewski's toughness will be just as missed.

The net gain from the deadline?  Minimal at best.

So with 15 games remaining on the Hawks schedule, both Tallon and head coach Joel Quenneville will really have to show what they're made of.  If it's more soft play coupled with more dump-and-chase, you can bet that both of these guys will find themselves on the hot seat when the offseason rolls around.

Things got interesting when the Blackhawks were threatening for the division lead back in December and now things are getting even more interesting as the season slowly begins to wind down

Just not in a good way.

The question now becomes, if Tallon failed at the deadline, just how much will this team suffer for it?

Can the ship be righted in time for the playoffs, and if not, how much further will they fall?